Leong: Global influence doesn’t only come from flexing military muscle – Calgary Sun


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A man walks past a screen displaying flags of G20 countries inside of the COEX convention centre in Seoul, South Korea.
A man walks past a screen displaying flags of G20 countries inside of the COEX convention centre in Seoul, South Korea. Photo by Daniel Berehulak /Getty Images file photo

With Russia’s war in Ukraine now reaching the three-month mark, there has been a lot of focus in a number of countries on bolstering defensive capabilities.

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This is an important conversation to have — especially for members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which are expected to spend 2% of their gross domestic product on military initiatives.

For Canada, that would be around $42 billion. According to the latest federal budget, defence spending is expected to hit $33 billion within five years.

Regardless of whether you believe Canada is on its way to reaching NATO’s expectations, it’s a lot of money.

Of course, larger countries will spend more. Much more.

The United States, for example, has budgeted a staggering US$782 billion for defence this fiscal year. And so far in 2022, the U.S. has earmarked US$10 billion on military and security aid for Ukraine alone.

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In terms of firepower, Canada and other middle-power countries will always be playing second and third fiddle to the world’s superpowers.

This provides some interesting context for a different conservation coming to the fore in the Pacific region, where democratic nations are trying to push back against the growing influence of communist China.

Much like the talk closer to home, Australia and New Zealand have pledged to boost military capabilities, just in case.

However, those countries are also looking at a second front in their pushback against China: news and information.

In a general election this weekend, Australians elected a new Labour government. Part of the winning party’s campaign platform included a promise to keep military spending at or above 2% of GDP.

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But it also included a pledge to improve its outreach to the Pacific region through international radio and television broadcasting. Australia mostly exited that sphere about a decade ago and China was more than happy to swoop in and take its place.

Meanwhile New Zealand, alongside bolstered military spending in its budget released last week, has also planned to strengthen its broadcasting capabilities to the Pacific region.

Unlike their Australian neighbours, New Zealand never stopped overseas broadcasting on shortwave, making programs tailor-made for foreign audiences and providing an information lifeline during natural disasters.

Indeed, a good number of middle-power countries made the colossal error of curtailing or winding down overseas broadcasts and foreign-language programming in the 2010s, believing such operations were no longer necessary in a world increasingly connected by the internet.

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Canada was among them. June 2022 marks the 10th anniversary of the last radio programs from Radio Canada International, since replaced by an anemic web-based service.

While international audiences are difficult to gauge, it was commonly understood RCI punched well above its weight given its microscopic annual budget of some $12 million.

For the sake of comparison, Alberta’s energy war room’s annual budget of $30 million has provided us with a mixed bag of … uh … accomplishments.

In its final days, RCI was a lean, mean broadcasting machine, making daily radio programs in eight languages for a worldwide audience well into the millions.

Those language services included Ukrainian and Russian, by the way.

I can’t help but wonder how being able to reach Ukrainians and Russians directly using radio and other means could have been instrumental as part of Canada’s response to the war in Ukraine, especially given the resulting censorship and severed communications.

RCI also made programs in Mandarin. How useful would it have been, given Canada’s strained relationship with China, for this country to circumvent the so-called Great Firewall and do direct diplomacy with the people of China.

Canada must learn from our cousins in Australia and New Zealand, and take steps to make this country’s voice heard once again in a meaningful way on the world stage.

No one will hear us if we don’t speak up.

[email protected]

On Twitter: @RickyLeongYYC

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